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Fun and free in Costa Rica: The reign of dogs at Territorio de Zaguates

Territorio de Zaguates, “Land of the Strays,” is home to some 750 to 800 homeless dogs. Barking bucketloads of happy dogs roam the hills at this enormous shelter. You, too, can hike the meandering hillside, run alongside the woofing herd and even adopt a dog if you like. A hike with the pack is fun, free, heartwarming and good exercise.

Happy dogs stand watch on the hills of Territorio de Zaguates.
Ilana Long/The Tico Times

At 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, we parked in the long line of cars on the road heading into the property. Although we were surprised to see so many visitors, we were even more surprised to find the 50 or so dogs that greeted us as we ambled up the long driveway. As we started on the hike through the forested, mountainous terrain, a hundred or more dogs joined in, pushing past the startled walkers in their quest for a day on the hill. Be aware that if you bring your own dog, he or she may run wild with the pack and disappear for an hour or so. Just sayin’.

The dogs here are strays picked up from the streets and deposited into the caring hands of this farm. Here they are fed, walked, housed, vaccinated and fixed. The goal is to adopt the dogs out to homes, but more and more arrive each day. The free hikes bring in donations of food and cash, and spread the word that these dogs are available for adoption.

Hiking the lovely trail alongside wagging tails.
Ilana Long/The Tico Times

My 13-year-old son, Benji, had such a great time that he journaled about it. I’ll have to give him a portion of the fortune I’m going to make when this article goes viral. Here’s what he had to say:

“This Saturday we went to Territorio de Zaguates and we had a really great time! Territorio de Zaguates is a shelter that takes in stray or abused dogs and gives them food, a place to sleep, and a lot of exercise. It was my second time here, but its magnificence wasn’t lessened at all. We drove up through Heredia and saw that about one hundred people came to donate, do service, and hike with the dogs for about two hours. We got there and were amazed to see that there were around 750 to 800 dogs and an amazing expanse of acres of beautiful countryside.

Kids like making new friends, too.
Ilana Long/The Tico Times

“The hike wasn’t that hard, but it took a long time because we loved to constantly stop, sit down with the dogs of all shapes and sizes and pet them as they swarmed us, hoping for affection. Some of the dogs had marks of abuse like brain damage, no teeth, or a cut-off tail, leg or ears. However, you could tell that they were all really happy to be with tons of other dogs and a lot of friendly people. A few of them had injuries or other problems because they had been neglected, but they were still cute.

My hubby, Steve, falls in love with another girl.
Ilana Long/The Tico Times

“I think it would be really cool to be one of the volunteers or workers at the Territorio because they get to take care of and be around so many of those dogs. One of the guides ran down the hill and all of the dogs followed in an avalanche of movement. I tried running with them once and got knocked over by one dog and nearly got trampled by the rest.

My new friend.
Ilana Long/The Tico Times

“It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go again. Overall it was really fun and we were very happy to give a donation at the end to support the dogs that reigned over the expanse of hills, mud, a little poop and smiles. I will never forget the dogs like Rino and won’t forget the fun we had with our human friends and our dog friends. I definitively recommend it for people of all ages who love dogs.”

For more info:

Territorio de Zaguates is located in Heredia Province, just east of the Alajuela Province line near Barva Volcano. Hikes are offered on March 4, 5, 18 and 19. Arrive at 8:45 a.m. in your own car. Call 8815-2514 (Alvaro) or email (Lya).

In this column, adventurer, author, teacher and parent Ilana Long explores fun things to do in Costa Rica that cost absolutely nada. Contact her at


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